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United Steelworkers’ Tom Conway Talks Infrastructure, Build Back Better

New York, NY – The United Steelworkers is the largest industrial union in North America, with 1.2 million members in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. Industries include atomic, chemical, education, energy and utilities, GMP Council: Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers, Health Care, Pharmacies and Pharmaceuticals, Manufacturing, Metals (Steel, Aluminum, etc.), Mining, Oil and Petroleum, Paper and Forestry, Public Employees, Rubber and Tires, and Transportation.

LaborPress spoke to International President Thomas Conway to find out the impact of the Infrastructure Bill and what the passage of Build Back Better means to union jobs.

Tom Conway, international president, United Steelworkers.

LP: Which of your industries were affected by the passage of the Infrastructure Bill? 

TC: Well, actually probably most of them. I think people when they think of the Steelworkers they think it doesn’t go beyond that, but actually our portfolio is pretty big now, and so there’s a lot of metals – steel, aluminum, what are known as the red metals: copper, we do copper mining, then we have a lot of pulp and paper, oil refining – we’re the largest oil refining union – we have glass, auto parts, there’s a big part of our sector, tire and auto, we manufacture most of the tires in the country so it’s really broadened across every sector. We’re making fiber optic cables for Corning which for broadband use will be a big boost for them, so it’s sort of covered every sector. And that’s why it’s been so important to us.

LP: In what specific ways will they be affected? What provisions in the bills will impact jobs?

TC: Well I think the transportation changes that will come about as far as the roads and bridges, there’s going to be a lot of skilled work that’s eventually going to come about because of that. On the electrical grid there’s a lot of aluminum work, and even in the building of the [Electric Vehicle] EV stations and preparation for the EV transformation of the vehicle – there’s a lot of copper in there so and there’s a lot of aluminum in the distribution center in the upgrading of the electrical grid. Sort of across the board. In the rails – we manufacture electric buses, we manufacture rail systems, and so, there’s a lot of railroad work in here. So I think it’s going to create a lot of jobs for people.

LP: How will provisions in the bill for technological improvements, such as broadband – you touched on this earlier, affect jobs?

TC: I think there’s $65 billion in this to expand broadband into rural and underserved parts of the country, and so that will be a lot of work and manufacturing that fiber optic cable and getting it into those communities that aren’t served by the Internet now. 

LP: How did members contribute to the passage of the bill?

TC: We launched a campaign called “We Supply America” and we engaged all our local unions who were manufacturing a product that was going to be needed in the Infrastructure Bill and those letters went to the White House to the National Security Council and National Economic Advisors and to the new office at OMB [Office of Management and Budget] that’s been created that’s making it in America. And they were joint letters done with employers explaining their product what they made, how it fit into infrastructure, what it meant in the community, how much work it would bring, how big the payroll was, and so we had hundreds of letters go into the White House explaining to them where this work came from within the country so, for the campaign we put on a bus tour, and toured six states. We visited sites that would be making different parts of this whether it was glass or parts or auto or steel and held rallies in each of those locations. And our members have been engaged, and the union’s actually been very engaged in this. The rallies were well attended and well-publicized.

LP: What about Build Back Better? Would that have a significant effect on jobs?

TC: Yes, I think it will as well. Look, there’s a lot of parts in Build Back Better that – there’s calling it the social infrastructure, but, that infrastructure in child care, will create a lot of jobs, if you’re going to put young kids into school now…before kindergarten and three and four year-olds, the work that’ll get done in terms of home health care and the expansion of needs – we have a large sector of health care in our union, probably 50,000 members who, a lot of them work in nursing home and health care settings, just the entire ability to let people kind of get to where they can do some training while allowing families the help they need while securing childcare…the last couple of years taught us that finding childcare has become very difficult, very costly and expensive so either directly or indirectly it means a lot to what goes on inside our union. 

LP: Any other thoughts relating to the passage of future passage of either of these bills?

TC: Look, these bills are truly historic in nature, they’ve been needed for such a long time. And we’ve allowed our infrastructure to decay in a significant way, and so, finally the country in focused on work that’s needed to have been done for a long time and we welcome the passage of both of these bills. 

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